Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/534

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530
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE AND ITS RELATION TO THOUGHT[1]
By ALEX. HILL, M.A., M.D.

MASTER OF DOWNING COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE

FOR a few years the great Samuel Johnson kept an academy for-*-young gentlemen. It was not a success, despite the fact that he had the two Garricks as pupils. Johnson was not fitted for the work. Yet, little as Johnson succeeded as a teacher, he was himself a monument of mental training—his memory colossal, his style the classic for the English language, his wit so keen as to make Boswell's six volumes of biography perennially good reading. If he could not teach others, he had succeeded in teaching himself. We are bound to give due weight to his views on his own education. To what did he attribute its success?

When Langton asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Greek and Latin, 'the Doctor' replied: "My master whipped me very well; without that, sir, I should have done nothing." "I would rather have the rod a general terror to all to make them learn than tell a child: 'If you do thus or thus, you will be esteemed above your brothers and sisters.' The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself, whereas by exciting emulation and comparisons of superiority you lay the foundations of lasting mischief." The rod was Johnson's instrument of education. What were his materials? What subject did he consider as the most suitable vehicles of education? A single illustration will reveal his whole mind.

Writing to a young friend who had asked his advice as to the best subjects for him to study before entering the university—he must have been a lad of fifteen or sixteen years old—Johnson says: "I know not well what books to direct you to because you have not informed me what study you will apply yourself to. I think it will be best for you to apply yourself wholly to the languages until you go to the university. The Greek authors I recommend you to read are these: Cebes, Ælian, Lucian, Xenophon, Homer, Theocritus, Euripides. Thus you will be tolerably skilled in the dialects, beginning with Attic, to which the rest must be referred." Then follows a still more appalling list of Latin writers. Johnson "does not know the study to which his young friend intends to apply himself." But, whatever his destined


  1. Presidential address to the Teachers' Guild of Great Britain and Ireland, delivered at University College, London, May 22, 1906.